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WORKSHOP #5: EREK held its fifth workshop in Vienna - SMEs, Clusters and Circularity

Posted on: 23.10.2018
by The EREK team

SMEs, circularity and cluster organisations !

Such was the topic of the European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre's latest workshop in Vienna, Austria, held on the 22nd of October, on the eve of the Enterprise Europe Network Annual Conference - also taking place in Vienna. A most favourable date and country venue which did not disappoint as the event workshop was well-attended, with 40 participants in total! 

Previous surveys have indeed shown that in 2016 already 40% of Austrian clusters were already actively involved in circular economy activities and 29% of Austrian companies thought that a database with case studies showing the benefits of Resource efficiency for companies would help them to be more resource efficient. Another 27% of companies would have liked to have a tool to self-assess their own resource efficiency scores in comparison to other companies [1].

The workshop was co-hosted by Business Upper Austria and Interreg-Project “Moveco”. Attendees came from a diverse range of sectors and industries, including representatives of public bodies at national, regional an local levels, members from academia with backgrounds in resource efficiency and circular economy, cluster managers and business support managers. Workshop organisers were especially pleased to note that the audience comprised a wide array of nationalities.

Welcome addresses

Agis Evrigenis, EREK director, welcomed all of the participants and provided a brief run-through of the day’s programme while introducing the workshop organiser Mr. Siegfried Keplinger of Cleantech Austria.

“ Do you think climate change and limited resources are a severe problem? No, these we can solve, problems are ignorance and apathy and denial.”  Siegfried Keplinger, Cleantech Cluster

It was then Helen-Diane Dage's turn, as Deputy Head of Unit at DG Grow, to formally open the workshop. In doing so, she pointed out the key role played by clusters in bringing SMEs together in joint collaboration resource efficiency projects. Emphasis was thus laid on the importance of setting up new exchange schemes to improve knowledge management and to anticipate to the next Multi-annual Financial Framework and the priorities of the Member States. 

Finally, the workshop's welcome address was concluded by Andreas Tschulik, the representative of the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism. Having presented the various programs currently supporting an Austrian transition to circular economy and acknowledged, as previous speakers did, the importance of EREK and clusters, he then brought into focus the issue of green technology financing and the obstacle posed by diverging views between the Environment and Finance Ministries. 

Consensus and brainstorming solutions

This Vienna workshop brought to light a consensus widely shared amongst participants : though both EREK and clusters have so far successfully operated to the benefit of SMEs, their positive effect would considerably heightened were the resource efficiency schemes of the former coupled with the networking capacity of the latter.

Participants therefore generally agreed on the necessity for improving EREK-cluster collaboration. 

Clusters have an important role to play in raising awareness and bringing their SMEs to innovate through collaboration for the development of a circular economy.”  - Lucia Seel, ECCP Communication & Content Manager

The workshop's interactive format allowed for a fruitful discussion to ensue between the participants on how to ally EREK and cluster activities so as to best promote resource efficiency amongst SMEs. 

EREK-cluster collaboration was the focus of the first afternoon session. The second session touched upon ways in which SMEs could best be supported towards resource efficiency.

As various speakers took to the stage, their accounts were met with lively feedback from the audience who were equally eager to share their own experiences and thoughts. A wide array of topics and concerns were addressed, from cluster management technicalities to corporate support services, best environmental management practices, and tools for improving resource efficiency and circularity within companies. The story-telling quality of EREK's database cases, for instance, turned out to be vastly appreciated as a way to engage skeptical SMEs, all the while dispensing resource efficiency knowledge. On other notes, the influence of university networks and the priority given to convincing SME CEOs foremost also came into discussion. Success stories of Wiener Linien, the workshop's host and largest transportation company in Austria, on renovating the subway line U4 in Vienna were particularly appreciated by participants. By displaying evidence of how even big companies invest in the introduction of multi-million euro resource efficiency measures - material flow analyses and infrastructure material re-use in Wiener Linien's case - they were perceived as an excellent way to embolden SMEs to strive for resource efficiency themselves. Any other large company introducing multi-million-euro solutions could demonstrate the possibility and effectiveness of RE solutions. 

For more in depth information, feel free to check out the speakers' presentations from the Vienna Workshop !

By and large, through peer-to-peer learning and brainstorming, this participatory session provided participants with practical advice and thoughts on how clusters can best promote resource efficiency and circular economy to their network members.

Key take-aways

Participants did agree on a series of actions as possible guidelines for EREK- cluster collaboration schemes : 

  • It was suggested that a critical mass of evidence and of service providers should first be gathered in order to reach out to a vast number of SMEs. The necessity to acknowledge the impossibility of reaching them all was nonetheless emphasized in an effort to maintain realistic expectations.  
  • Resource efficiency would then be best integrated in the business sphere through joint action of projects, networks and resources. Willingness to support the cause and collaborate was seen as an essential factor of success. 
  • Gathering intelligence through a local presence was also seen as imperative in ensuring the practical implementation of a solution. 
  • Finally, it was seen as necessary to maintain a structured and systemic approach to maximise impact and outreach. Not only should actors from multiple spheres - academia, policy, finance - be made aware of the importance of resource efficiency, but they should also be made to collaborate between themselves in a structured and comprehensive way.

Overall satisfaction with workshop output

The main objectives of the workshop were to

  • enable networking and engage cluster organisations with EREK and its related resource efficiency and circular economy activities,
  • raise general awareness vis-à-vis clusters,
  • and enable clusters to provide resource efficiency support services and tools in their sector activities.

Overall, the workshop was deemed as success. Animated afternoons discussions substantially helped towards capacity building, knowledge and experience sharing and exploring possible synergies between various EU projects.

Onsite visit of Wiener Linien

The final workshop activity kept its interactive streak going with an on-site of Wiener Linien’s premises. Participants were allowed access to the control room of Vienna's transportation services, the hub of all operational activities. Information on resource efficient solutions from Wiener Linien's that had been presented in theory were thus enhance by a concrete, real, hands-on experience.

 

[1]Eurobarometer (2017),Flash Eurobarometer 456 – SMEs, Resource Efficiency and Green Markets – Austria. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm